US to conduct its last 'clearing' operation of the Afghan war


The 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division will begin a major 'clearing' operation shortly. The brigade recently deployed to the Andar district of Ghazni province in Eastern Afghanistan and took over an area previously held by Polish troops.

"The American paratroopers are not replacing Polish forces; they are taking over what is expected by many to be the last big clearing operation of the war, allowing the Polish Task Force White Eagle to consolidate around the provincial seat in northern Ghazni," according to the Regional Command - East website.

"To secure Afghanistan, you must secure Andar," Musa Khan, the governor of Ghazni province said.

The RC-East website described Andar as "both a provincial district and a tribe within the Pashtun ethnicity influenced heavily by the Taliban."

US troop surge and counterinsurgency operations, 2010 to 2012

US counterinsurgency operations generally follow a pattern that consists of three phases: 'clear,' 'hold,' and 'build'.

In the 'clear' phase, insurgent strongholds are attacked directly. This is a high-intensity combat operation requiring a relatively large number of troops. The goal is to attack insurgents in their stronghold and drive them out of the area while destroying their infrastructure. Extra troops are usually deployed for these operations and heavy fighting usually lasts for a number of months.

In the 'hold' phase and the subsequent 'build' phase, local troops are brought in, first to prevent insurgents from infiltrating back into cleared areas. Then the local troops are built up so they can stand on their own while US troops are gradually withdrawn.

Starting in early 2010, when the US began sending a surge of troops to Afghanistan, the US conducted a number of large-scale counterinsurgency operations. Over the next two years, clear, hold, and build operations were executed throughout South and Southwest Afghanistan. By 2012, these had mostly shifted to hold and build operations, reducing the demand for US troops. The original plan for 2012 and 2013 was to transfer US troops to East Afghanistan to execute counterinsurgency operations there.

The end of US-led clearing operations

In June 2011, however, the US announced it would withdraw its surge forces. Between July 2011 and October 2012, the US would withdraw 32,000 of its 100,000 troops.

With the drawdown, the extra US troops needed for large scale clearing operations would no longer be available. US counterinsurgency operations would have to concentrate on holding and building in areas that have already been cleared.

Given the drawdown schedule, the Andar operation will necessarily be the last US-led clearing operation of the Afghan war. Any further clearing operations will have to be led by the Afghan National Security Force with the US in a supporting role.

Andar clearing operation and 82nd Airborne Division, April 2012

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As part of the plan to draw down US surge forces, clearing operations in northern Afghanistan scheduled for 2012 were canceled.

The 45th National Guard Infantry Brigade based in the area (in Laghman and Nuristan provinces) ended its deployment and withdrew in March. Its replacement, the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, deployed instead to Ghazni province, where the brigade provides the extra troops needed for the Andar clearing operation.

Ghazni province is of particular importance for several reasons. Ghazni, along with Paktika, Paktia, and Khost provinces, comprises the main operating area for the Haqqani Network, considered the most dangerous and lethal of the Taliban organizations. Terror groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan also operate in Ghazni.

Ghazni also sits astride one of the main infiltration routes for the Haqqani Network from its safe havens in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province through eastern Afghanistan and on to the capital of Kabul. The Andar district in Ghazni serves as a major insurgent stronghold and staging area along the route.

The 1st Brigade/ 82nd Airborne Division's mission will be to clear Andar district of insurgents and disrupt the infiltration route. The clearing operation may last up to six months. Then, US forces in the area will transition to a holding operation with the Afghan National Security Force troops in the lead and US forces moving to a support role.



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READER COMMENTS: "US to conduct its last 'clearing' operation of the Afghan war"

Posted by Will Fenwick at April 11, 2012 4:06 PM ET:

If NATO really wants to win the afghan war it needs to conduct a ''clearing'' operation in the Pakistani Tribal Areas.

Posted by Villiger at April 11, 2012 6:26 PM ET:

Given its proximity to both, the capital and the rat-lines to Waziristan in Pakistan, i wonder if someone can explain to me, why has this area been left to the last and seemingly under-resourced?

Posted by gerry at April 11, 2012 10:46 PM ET:

The begining of the end. From here on out its the withdrawel of US troops that matter.

Posted by mike merlo at April 12, 2012 12:17 AM ET:

Hopefully the US won't shy away from excessive use of drone's in the Waziristan's and spice up the mix in the other parts of FATA.

Posted by wallbangr at April 12, 2012 1:05 PM ET:

Memo to Taliban: Melt away and bide your time until October, when our telegraphed withdrawal will leave the ANA unable to hold what was cleared. Why would the taliban stand and fight now against a vastly superior force than what is going to be left guarding the hen house in a few short months?

While I'm positive that the brave soldiers of the 1/82nd will diligently perform their duties, I can't help but question for myself the ultimate meaning of such missions in the larger context of the war. The same way that nobody wants to be the last casualty in a war that is winding down, I'm sure the prospect of losing buddies in a final but ultimately meaningless push isn't exactly a morale booster. Fortunately, as soldiers in an all-volunteer force, they are already well versed in the futility in questioning the wisdom of the mission. Knowing that theirs is "but to do or die," is what separates the warrior class from the rest of the civilian population. All the same, it does seem that much of our actions since the announcement of the withdrawal have been a kind of window dressing. Which is, in my humble opinion, a raw deal for the boots on the ground who are left to execute a flawed strategy. Sure, they will do it. But can doesn't necessarily mean should. We owe it to these men to have meaningful missions with a clear strategy towards winning. Anything less seems like a criminal misuse of blood and treasure. While these brave men will, undoubtably, go where the president tells them, it is lamentable that the enemy has already been given a big incentive to sit this one out

Posted by R P at April 13, 2012 2:52 AM ET:

The US will not win another war, face to face, until it abandons its new favorite policy of "casualties are unacceptable". This unofficial/unstated policy is based on a paradigm shift in our national mores. We no longer belief a belief or idea is willing to die for; I see infantry and cavalry company/troop commanders in Afghanistan. Having been in 21 years, I am still willing to sacrifice my life for the ideals of the constitution, know the benefit for the greater good by such a sacrifice, and view myself as expendable. Think of all the wars foreign and domestic we would have never won (from our own independence to the drug/gang wars in local neighborhoods, to WW II an so forth).

The patrol standards, constraints placed on partners and advisors, 65 page operations orders for simple missions all show our fear of casualties, loss of agility, lack of belief in a greater good, and teamwork that was willing to sacrifice for one another ... leading to a greater, more moral nation.

Posted by Witch Doctor at April 13, 2012 11:51 AM ET:

Mike Merlo said:
Hopefully the US won't shy away from excessive use of drone's in the Waziristan's and spice up the mix in the other parts of FATA.

Plus one!

Posted by becky at April 15, 2012 5:59 PM ET:

Wallbanger you said it all and in such an eloquent manner.
"a raw deal for the boots on the ground who are left to execute a flawed strategy. Sure, they will do it. But can doesn't necessarily mean should. We owe it to these men to have meaningful missions with a clear strategy towards winning. Anything less seems like a criminal misuse of blood and treasure. While these brave men will, undoubtedly, go where the president tells them, it is lamentable that the enemy has already been given a big incentive to sit this one out"
Those are my sentiments exactly! Thank you for giving words to what my heart feels about the situation. I am not in the military, but I don't think it is rocket science to determine that when you are in a game of chess, you don't tell your opponent your next move. Common sense is a lost treasure, the boots on the ground deserve better. God bless our troops!

Posted by Devin Leonard at April 21, 2012 3:38 PM ET:

despite the recent photo scandal that has hit the 82nd airborne, they are still a top notch unit and the Taliban have a great deal to fear if these boys are coming at them!